"The 'Way' is the strong bond your people have with you. Whether they face certain death or hope to come out alive, they never worry about danger or betrayal." Sun Tzu
Historically, betrayal is almost never the people betraying their leader. Betrayal is almost always a leader betraying his or her own people. So I find it appalling when Art of War translations and commentators mention the former instead of the latter. Furthermore, would it matter one iota to a real leader whether the people betray him or her? No. A wise one would be quite satisfied if he or she simply held true to his or her duty regardless of what others think.
So what makes a leader? A leader shares in the people's dreams but that's not all. He or she must have and communicate a way worth following. In other words, he or she knows what to do! If a person doesn't know what he or she doing, then that person isn't a leader either. Thus a true leader is rare and there are times when no one emerges except inferior candidates and outright impostors. Below are the five main traits of a leader:
"'General' is wise, trustworthy, benevolent, brave, and disciplined." Sun Tzu
People only go out of their way to support those who they feel can take them and society to a better place, and that only happens when they can trust who they support.
This is a lot harder than it sounds. An individual who wants and decides to become a leader usually doesn't understand the hardship and sacrifice that would be needed. Most leaders don't decide to be leaders -- they simply are. People don't point out about how well fish swim because that's what they naturally do. Leaders become leaders not because they deliberately wanted to be leaders but rather they have to be one. They are often critiqued. They are often belittled. Yet they are often looked upon to get the job done. There is a humbling struggle and desperation about leadership and it's not usually neat, pretty, and glorious:
"The general who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure..." Sun Tzu
"...He looks upon his troops as children, and they will advance to the deepest valleys. He looks upon his troops as his own children, and they will die with him." Sun Tzu
Once people understand their common purpose, they don't mind pain, danger, or sacrifice. They might even expect it. But inconvenience them slightly in something they all disagree with and they make bad excuses and complain the loudest.
"A general who understands warfare is the guardian of people's lives, and the ruler of the nation's security." Sun Tzu
What about the leader? What is in it for him or her? Well, dear reader, let us remain in reality: the described famous leaders we read about in the history books aren't necessarily the magnanimous individuals we imagine (want?) them to be. They are often far from the definition of people of enlightened leadership. Real leaders are far more often unknown and unrecognized in their everyday work for their families, local communities, and states. They are often drowned out by those who can market themselves better, and I would dare to say, actually do less in terms of contribution to society.
Sun Tzu disappeared in history after Wu's ruler Ho Lu died and his corrupt son Fu Chai took power. To me, Sun Tzu's abrupt disappearance is as obvious as Ho Lu's finally deciding to choose Sun Tzu as his commander despite both sides' reservations: Sun Tzu's wisdom is only useful and needed if it is applied! There is no purpose for brilliant strategies if those strategies remain in written form even if they are praised. Sun Tzu realized Fu Chai was travelling down the path as any common ruler and so he left. He cared not for fame and in fact scholars are still adamant as to Sun Tzu's very existence. These same scholars pick and choose Sima Qian's accounts, discounting Sun Tzu's contribution and highlighting others. This is quite unfortunate. However, I have a strong feeling that Sun Tzu would not care if people think he never lived. He did what he could and that is enough.
Can I have the luxury of exploring further into the thought above? Could it be the very best leaders of history and today are people we have never met or heard of? Of course there will be a few who slip through. If Sima Qian didn't write about Sun Tzu and Emperor Shenzong of the Song dynasty didn't promote him, Sun Tzu would be nowhere. If Plato and Xenophon didn't write about Socrates, Socrates would be nowhere. If Lucius and Pliny the Younger didn't write about Musonius, Musonius would be nowhere. They all hang by a tenuous historical thread and there is no guarantee they will be remembered in another thousand years. That is because there is no guarantee their wisdom would be considered useful in a future world that might not value character and integrity.
Therefore, could it be possible that countless unknown leaders lived, done their duty without even hearing an utterance of praise or recognition, yet were fully satisfied with their lives when they breathed their last breath? I don't have the definitive answer to that question. One thing seems more certain: they would be least likely to write tomes on leadership, detailing for hundreds of pages on what leaders do, because they were too busy being leaders.